Washington area lawmakers yesterday reacted to President Bush's State of the Union speech along party lines, with Republicans praising the speech for its emphasis on events in the Persian Gulf, and Democrats questioning whether Bush is facing up to economic and social problems at home.
Members of Congress from Maryland, Virginia and the District said that Bush's speech, which he delivered Tuesday night, underscored the nation's commitment to its armed forces fighting in the Persian Gulf.
Although none of the legislators said they found Bush's speech inspirational, they said his praise for U.S. troops sent an important message to those risking their lives abroad.
The region's Democratic lawmakers said that the part of Bush's speech dealing with domestic issues was particularly unconvincing, leaving doubts as to whether the president has either the will or the money to accomplish much at home.
Bush mentioned several domestic issues, including the recession, problems in the nation's banking system, proposed civil rights legislation and the need for an energy policy. But Bush offered few specific proposals and announced no major new financial commitments for those programs.
"The president's principal objective was to reinforce the will of Americans to stand behind our troops, and he succeeded in that," said Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.). Bush "has never been accused of being one of the great orators of our time, but he has a different quality that makes him successful.
"But the rest of the speech looked like an attempt to include something on just about any subject that could be mentioned," Robb said. "There were a lot of buzzwords . . . without much sense of purpose or program to them. I don't think anyone has any real expectations for much of an agenda."
Rep. Tom McMillen (D-Md.) called Bush's remarks on the Persian Gulf "very sincere and heartfelt . . . . I think he made his case as well as he has done at any point."
But McMillen said that "domestically, it was short on detail. He hit all the right topics. But a few short mentions are a long way from being a real agenda. There are a lot of question marks there."
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who called himself "a proud supporter of the Bush administration," asked, "If it wasn't a good speech, why did Congress applaud 40 times? I don't think Ronald Reagan ever got that much applause.
"He covered the major issues that are of concern to the Washington area," Wolf said. "And he spent a lot of time talking about the gulf. That is what is on everyone's minds."
"Given the backdrop of war, this has got to be one of the most difficult speeches he ever made," said Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.). "It was necessary that he concentrate on the Middle East situation.
"He mentioned domestic issues more than I thought he would," said Morella, "albeit they were one-liners. I think it was an effective speech thematically, not with specificity."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said that Bush has been asked to use the District as a model for programs designed to fight urban problems, and that she had hoped that the president might mention the District in his speech. "I was disappointed," Norton said. "We think the District would be a good place to show concern for urban areas."
D.C. officials are lobbying the federal government for an additional $100 million to help make up a severe budget deficit.
"There is a crying out by cities all over the country for help, and the capital city would be a good place to express support," Norton said.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said that failure to address domestic problems will have serious consequences long after the Persian Gulf War is over. "When our guys and gals come back from the desert they want a job, they want their kids to be in good schools, and they want their streets to be safe," Mikulski said. "You can't do that just by good intentions."